Make no mistake about it: The schnitzel and lutefisk Bismarck’s founders brought with them are mighty fine eating. But Germans and Norwegians would have done anything back in the day just for a taste of the spices of South Asia. Now they only have to go to Wiang Thai.
Wiang Thai is the Watanaboonyakhet sisters’ second restaurant in North Dakota. Pat and Wan opened Baan Rao Thai Restaurant in Minot to much acclaim a few years back, and they chose to repeat that success in Bismarck. They have their longtime friend and Bismarck local Lance Holden to helm their newest operation for them.
“When I first ate at Pat and Wan’s restaurant in Minot, I was just blown away by the freshness and flavors of authentic Thai food,” said Lance. “I was happy to run Baan Rao for the sisters while they went on vacation to Thailand. When they returned, I told them they had to bring their food to Bismarck, which didn’t even have a Thai place at the time!
“As great a fan as I am of Thai food, it’s still fairly new to me. Thai cooking has no use for a grill, and there’s little need for knives during prep. Setting up an Asian kitchen where freshness means everything and stir-frying and deep-frying are king was a learning experience, absolutely, but I’ve been fortunate to have the Watanaboonyakhet family’s expertise to rely on in keeping everything authentic as it can be.
“You might not think a culinary tradition from the tropics would complement Bismarck’s climate so well. Let me tell you, though, a little something spicy can do a lot to take the sting out of our winter!”
The cooks of Wiang Thai certainly haven’t set out to overload palates with scorching hot spices, of course. They delicately balance seasonings such as chili powder, galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves and turmeric to delight their diners’ senses. When a civilization sprouts up within a veritable Eden of spice-giving plants, cuisine as good as Thailand’s must inevitably follow.
A Thai restaurant lives and perishes by their pad thai, and Wiang Thai’s doesn’t let down. Their traditional rice noodle dish is treated to a blend of bold spices, with just the faintest touch of fish sauce that sets off so many South Asian dishes’ flavors. Fried all together with fresh vegetables and your choice of meat (or tofu), a Wiang Thai pad thai is as delicious as it is a tongue twister.
The pad thai is merely the gateway dish. Having set foot in the Thai culinary world you must next try the pad king, a medley of sliced meat (or tofu) and vegetables fried in crisp ginger. Curry is a dish so phenomenal that it has even become a pub staple in England, a land where the words “flavorful” and “food” are seldom strung together. Wiang Thai has yellow, green and red curries, a traffic light’s spectrum of delectables each with their own subtleties to explore.
They have Massaman curry as well, but it kind of ruins my cute traffic light metaphor so it gets its own paragraph.
Wiang Thai’s entire menu would have filled these entire two pages on its own. They have spring rolls with wafer-thin rice papers wrapped taught around shrimps and crunchy green things. They have laab, a fragrant meat salad from Laos that bursts with cilantro goodness. They have even got the Happy Monkey – or at least a dish that would make any monkey very happy indeed. If you thought banana could only accompany breakfast cereal, you have not yet had it deep-fried in wonton wrappers and drizzled in light honey sauce.
Wiang Thai is now open for business at the Schilling Building. You may order their food delivered or post up in their cozy dining room at 1410 43rd Ave NE in Bismarck.
By David Scheller